National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 1 (January 19–25)
This week was mostly taken up by Senate trial proceedings, but there was some other pretty painful news as well. At this point, honestly, I’m starting to think we’d be better off being governed by the group of monkeys that accidentally wrote Hamlet. At least there would be less feces thrown everywhere.
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m mostly summarizing the news within my area of expertise. NNR summaries often contain some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise–I’m a lawyer, not a book promotion!–but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. And, of course, for the things that are within my lane, I’m offering context that shouldn’t be considered legal advice. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
At the time that I type this, Whistleblowing Ukraine Biden Bingo has had a whole bombastic week of proceedings, and we’re nowhere near finished. It’s going to be a long summary this week, because it’s hard to boil down this many hours, but here’s my best stab at it:
- The Process for Process. Since Senate Democrats were justifiably unimpressed with Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed kangaroo court rules, the week started with intense fighting about trial process. In the end, Dems gained some significant concessions: Opening arguments would be more spread out, and the full record from the House would be admitted. But on the most important topics, the GOP held firm: They refused to subpoena the White House for documents, and the entire question of witnesses got punted to sometime much later in the proceedings. So basically, the final ground rules will likely result in a weeks-long process that leaves nobody happy–but on the plus side, that includes Mitch McConnell.
- The House’s Opening Arguments. Adam Schiff’s opening arguments on behalf of the House started out along tried-and-true lines, pointing to highlights in the existing body of evidence to argue that Trump was trying to cheat in the 2020 election. But as the House’s three days of opening argument progressed, they got increasingly colorful and creative, folding in video clips to bring in ‘testimony’ and eventually referencing apparent threats to GOP Senators who strayed from the party line. Unsurprisingly, Republicans grew increasingly contemptuous–with more than a third leaving the room at some points, and fidget spinners apparently distributed for use during the remarks. (The closest thing the Senate has to moderate Republicans, incidentally, criticized Schiff for referencing apparent threat to them, but it remains to be seen whether their votes will reflect their displeasure.)
- The President’s Opening Arguments. The President’s opening statements began in earnest today after a brief preview on Saturday, and they’re as full of credibility and integrity as you might expect. Among the highlights: 1)Kennith Starr, who was instrumental in advancing the Clinton impeachment, complaining that ‘we live in the age of impeachment’ without a trace of apparent irony; 2)Lengthy diversions into the Bidens and Burisma to distract from the actual trial; 3) Calling Giuliani a ‘colorful distraction’; and 4) Scrambling to handle the Bolton bombshell that we’ll talk more about below.
- Bonkers Parnas Evidence (Again).* While all of the above was going on, even more damning news about the Ukraine affair managed to come out through unrelated means, which is kind of a neat trick by this point. More specifically, video surfaced of Donald Trump at a state dinner with Lev Parnas–you know, the Lev Parnas he doesn’t know, that Lev Parnas?–telling staff to ‘get rid’ of then-ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Outlets are assuming he was ordering underlings to fire her, which would be bad enough, but, uh… he concludes by saying “Take her out. Okay? Do it.” Having seen the text messages from last week, which more-or-less document stalking her, I’m… not convinced they stuck to the firing part.
The lines are pretty blurry between Ukraine and Disregard of Governing Norms this week, because so many stories are both. That said, these are the stories that I thought really highlighted our step back from recognizing norms on the Ukraine front:
- Mike Pompeo Erupts.* After NPR interviewer Mary Louise Kelly aired an interview with Mike Pompeo that asked him about Ukraine, she disclosed that he launched into a profanity-laced tirade immediately after taping, at one point demanding that she point to Ukraine on a map. Secretary Pompeo responded by calling Kelly ‘unhinged,’ and Trump asked why NPR exists–which in our current atmosphere, can definitely be read as a threat, even before the administration started predictably limiting NPR journalists’ access to State Department affairs. The entire thing prompted NPR CEO John Lansing to come onto All Things Considered to defend Kelly, noting on-record: “We will not be intimidated.”
- John Bolton’s Book Promo Testimony.* As John Bolton began his promotional tour of his new book, “The Room Where It Happened,” a leaked manuscript revealed that it undercuts a major pillar of Trump’s impeachment defense strategy, because the book claims that Trump told Bolton personally not to release funds to Ukraine until the Bidens were investigated. Incredibly, the White House was sent a copy of the book for review in December, which means that the team had notice that Bolton was about to say this publicly when they crafted the defense. For those of y’all playing the home game, intentionally lying to a tribunal is a huge no-no for attorneys, and Trump’s attorneys basically say the opposite in their arguments, which means Dershowitz and others could face some pretty serious censure if they know Bolton to be telling the truth. Naturally, Democrats are clamoring for his testimony again upon learning this, and since we haven’t settled the question of witnesses yet they might still get their wish. And all of this has been placed in the ‘Disregard of Government Norms’ bucket rather than the ‘Ukraine Biden Bingo’ one because nobody got any version of this information from Bolton until he published it in a book, and that’s so broken that I’m still not over it by the end of this paragraph.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- 2020 Election Weirdness. This was another weird week on the election circuit. Hillary Clinton made news for ripping into Bernie Sanders, reaffirming her earlier assessment that “nobody likes” him and noting that he “seems to be very much supporting” the toxicity of his followers. (Thanks, Hillary, now there will be no living with Bernie Bros on the Internet). That said, she did follow up to say that she’d still support him if he becomes the nominee. In more actual news, the Iowa caucuses are almost upon us, which is probably why the New York Times issued an endorsement this week. That said, that doesn’t explain why they endorsed both Klobuchar and Warren–but it’s a pretty good metaphor for 2020, so I’ll give them that.
- Star Trek Space Force. This administration news isn’t so dire, but it’s plenty weird, so I figured we might as well touch on it: 45 tweeted a reveal of the proposed logo for his new Space Force this week via Twitter, and it looks suspiciously like that of Starfleet Command from Star Trek. George Takei had a lot to say about it, and certainly has more grounds to complain than I do, so I urge folks to just read his op-ed for more info on the irony here.
- Immigration Update. We all got an unpleasant jolt today when the Supreme Court suddenly released an opinion on public charge in the middle of impeachment proceedings. The decision lifts an injunction put in place by district courts, reaffirmed only a few weeks ago by the Second Circuit, and allows the administration to go forward with a plan to dramatically reshape how they grant permission to immigrate. I’m seeing a lot of outlets call this a ‘wealth test,’ and I cannot overstate how accurate that is; though on its face, the policy is supposed to be about public benefits, it’s really just a back-door way to implement ‘merit-based immigration’ that looks at applicants’ age, wealth, and able-bodiedness (among other things). It also disproportionately punishes applicants of color, and leaves applicants afraid to access things they need to be healthy such as nutritional supports and health insurance. As if to punctuate the point, the decision was issued on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, highlighting that most survivors would be systemically blocked from entry under enforcement of this policy.
- Forcible Birth Insult to Injury. Though the big immigration news is public charge, Trump sure did a lot of gross things involving women and pregnancy this week, and one of them was a new ban on visas for pregnant women if they are suspected of ‘birth tourism.’ Notably, the administration published this as a final rule with no comment period, which is counter to required process–presumably because they wanted to release it while Trump addressed the Pro Life March in a grotesque mockery of actual piety. And to add to the publicity, he also threatened to withhold funds from California at the same time because they have laws requiring insurance coverage for abortions. All told, the whole stunt is so malignantly asinine that my brain tried to escape out my ears as I wrote this paragraph.
- Coronavirus Creep.* Many people, including myself, are watching the advance of a new coronavirus that is spreading from China to other locations. A coronovirus is broad classification and this one isn’t on the far-serious end of the spectrum; it’s generally nonfatal to healthy adults and there are only five documented cases in the U.S.. That said, the virus has claimed over a hundred lives worldwide due to particular risk to children, elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, and any epidemic under this administration would be an nightmare and a half. Since we’re already seeing a frightening lack of medical care for folks held in detention, I worry about vulnerable populations and am keeping an eye on this.
- Recent Court Resilience. This one is only borderline good, but it’s what I’ve got, so let’s roll with it: The Supreme Court declined to fast-track a challenge to the Affordable Care Act this week, meaning that the challenge will remain in place throughout the upcoming year until a decision is reached next term. This, of course, means that the question will still be unresolved during the 2020 election, but it also means the ACA won’t get immediately gutted by a Supreme Court that’s frankly not making awesome decisions of late, so I’ll take it.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry, there are no news refunds. For making it through, you deserve these two golden retrievers’ veggie test trials and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully better) news, and I hope you will be back as well–but in the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box, which is there for your constructive comments. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me more hours in the day!